The Muse in Music - Elliot Moore on Using Music to Create Community
By, Dan Perttu
This time on the Muse in Music blog, I have the great honor of interviewing Elliot Moore, Music Director of the Longmont Symphony Orchestra in Colorado. During the past year and a half, Elliot has approximately doubled audience size for the Longmont Symphony's Masterwork performances by making compelling programming choices and by interacting with the community in meaningful and authentic ways. The work he has accomplished since taking the helm in his inaugural 2017-18 season with the Longmont Symphony is quite an inspiration.
Dan: So tell me a little about yourself. What did you do before becoming the Music Director of the Longmont Symphony? Tell me about your musical background.
Elliot: I completed my undergraduate degree at the Cleveland Institute of Music in cello, and then I performed chamber music in Switzerland until 2008. A lot of the music I performed as both a chamber musician and orchestral musician in Switzerland was avant-garde music. While I was happy to be learning some wonderful music by Swiss composers, I did find some of it to be a bit too much on the cerebral side for my taste. I discovered that my desire was to be touched by the music, rather than to be “impressed” by its tonal and rhythmical complexities. In 2008 I began my conducting studies at the Manhattan School of Music, where I met the composer Richard Danielpour and got to know his music. I actually also lived with two composers in New York, so I was around new music all the time. For my doctorate, I went to the University of Michigan, where I met composers Michael Daugherty and Bright Sheng. Each of these composers has had a huge influence on my programming of new music; while their music certainly isn’t tonal all the time, they have a wonderful sense of consonance and dissonance. Their sense of line, orchestral timbre, form, etc. all combine to tell wonderful musical narratives that I have found to create moving experiences not only to me, but to audiences.
Dan: Wow – you have such a rich and interesting background that includes both traditional training and also exposure to a lot of new music. I’ll come back to that. In the meantime, though, I am curious about the Longmont Symphony and the region of Colorado Longmont is in. There are a lot of orchestras in your area – there’s the Colorado Symphony, of course, the Boulder Philharmonic, Fort Collins, etc. You’ve really made the Longmont Symphony a force to reckon with. How have you made it such a major player?
Elliot: Longmont is a growing city. It has become a destination where people want to be -- it is beautiful, close to the mountains, and has incredible amenities. We are now averaging around 900 people at our masterworks performances, which is approximately double the attendance at masterworks performances from just two years ago. With this kind of growth and interest in the performing arts, we now see broad support from music lovers and our local leaders to build a performing arts center. Seeing everyone coalesce around making Longmont a center for great culture has been incredible; it’s an exciting time for the arts in Longmont!
Dan: This is amazing! I love to hear about places where orchestras are growing and thriving. How did you manage to build the audience from around 500 to over 900?
Elliot: I started by changing the orchestra's approach to programming. First, I consider what the audience is used to. Where are they? I try to meet them where they are and then offer them some programs that will resonate with them, but with repertoire that they may not be familiar with yet. Second, I consider what the orchestra itself needs to further its artistic achievement. Third, I consider the region we are in. I recently programmed Slalom by Carter Pann, a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist composer who lives 10 minutes away from Longmont. This piece is about the feeling of skiing down a mountain, so it resonates with folks from Colorado. This piece was on my first program in my inaugural season with the LSO entitled “Old and New Friends.” Of course, I was new and wanted to deepen my relationship with the orchestra, but Carter was a new friend as well, and I brought in a pianist, Spencer Meyer, who was another new friend to the orchestra. For the second half, I programmed Elgar’s Enigma Variations since it was a piece about his friends. After the performance, the entire orchestra, staff, and audience all went out to a restaurant and got to know one another; it was a great way for us all to deepen our friendships through music.
In addition to changing the approach to programming, I make a point of being approachable and active in the community. People are sometimes intimidated by the “maestro,” so being down to earth, and frankly, just having an openness of spirit, allows for connecting with people from all walks of life. Honestly, having the opportunity to speak with music lovers and fans of the symphony is one of the best parts of my job.
Dan: This is great, and so inspirational to me. We hear so often that orchestras are in trouble, and your orchestra is growing and thriving! So, I’m sharing now one thing that’s inspiring to me, but now I’m really curious about what compositions inspire you. I usually start with this question, but we already got going on such interesting topics that I just wanted to let the conversation flow. But now, here we are: what music inspires you? Why do you do what you do?
Elliot: My all-time favorites are Bach’s Mass in B-Minor and his Goldberg Variations. Unfortunately, though, I don’t get to conduct a tremendous amount of Bach. I also love Mahler’s symphonies; he certainly does create an entire world within each of his symphonies! And, his music is interesting too because it is of, for, and by the people in a sense, especially in the First Symphony — I have his first symphony on my mind as we recently performed it. In that symphony, he includes peasant dances, nursery rhymes such as “Frere Jacques” in minor, and Klezmer music, juxtaposed against some of the greatest musical expressions of the human spirit ever put onto paper. He captures the entire spectrum of being human in his symphonies. Other composers . . . I love Brahms as well. Right now I have been working on Debussy’s La Mer, and I love it too. I become quite enveloped in whatever piece I am studying at the time -- I get into the composer’s world and live in it for as long as I can.
Dan: I share your passion for the great composers – Mahler, Brahms, Vaughan Williams, and Samuel Barber are some of my favorites. What about new music? Which contemporary composers do you want to program in the future?
Elliot: One role of the music director is to find composers they believe in and bring them to their audience. And, I love to provide my audiences also with the Colorado premiere of a piece, perhaps with the second performance of a piece (because sometimes for a composer, the second performance is even harder to get than the premiere), and also music by women and minorities. We need to choose composers who reflect people in our audience, which means choosing not just the music by white men. I’ve been prioritizing including music by women: this year I programmed a piece by Libby Larsen; last year I programmed music by Joan Tower, and next year I am hoping to bring in music by Jennifer Higdon. I would love to program something by Brahms, but right now, I am replacing it with the work of living composers because we conductors do have a responsibility to bring compelling new music to our audiences.
Dan: This has been so interesting to hear. Thanks for your open-minded approach to programming! Is there anything else that you would like to share?
Elliot: One of the driving forces for me is how music can be a catalyst to create community. One reason why the Longmont Symphony is so successful is because we have been able to tap into the need that so many people have, which is to be a part of something greater than themselves. I use music to create community.
Dan: I love this. I love your open attitude and your willingness to cultivate your audience and its community. I can see why you are so successful with drawing more people in to hear the Longmont Symphony perform. I’m truly excited to see how you will continue to make your orchestra grow and thrive! Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.
Elliot: Thanks, Dan!